Every one of the four Smoothest Operator discs from JSP is highly recommended; this second in the set happens to have the widest range of quality material. More than a decade before he ignited the bossa nova jazz craze that would make him a household name in the '60s, the 23-year old Getz had already fashioned his own beguiling tenor sax sound, insouciant yet tinged with melancholy. The five sessions comprising 1950-51 New York, made with various quartets over a year and three weeks'time, capture a quickened prodigy in action, one who can float like a butterfly and swing like a be-bopper.
The first seven tracks feature a January 1950 session where Getz is abetted by the deft cymbal brushwork of Roy Haynes and economical shadings of pianist Al Haig. “Too Marvelous for Words” is a splendidly lyrical mating of dulcet sax tone and easy rhythm, blemished by a trace of uncertainty like the spots that certify the fruit is organic. “What's New” is a ballad as sonic perfume, airy yet fragrant with romance. The next four songs, from April 1950, are of uneven audio quality but do feature superb bassist Percy Heath (check out the solo on “You Stepped Out of a Dream”), reveal Getz's casually magnificent tonal range on the ballad “My Old Flame,” and resurrect Getz's earlier debt to saxophonist Lester “Pres” Young on “The Lady in Red.”
The remaining three sessions (from May 1950-January 1951) inaugurated a legendary body of work that Getz compiled for the Roost record label through 1954. The “Yesterdays” included here is perhaps the best of the bevy of versions Getz recorded, with impeccable intonation and a buoyant melodicism that retains its shimmer when slowed to a standstill. It's the second in a five-song string from the May 17 session, culminating in “Hershey Bar,” that captures Getz's lyrical vivacity and gently piquant tone, like cream with a drop of lemon juice. The remaining two sessions feature pianist Horace Silver, who pushed Getz in terms of both harmony and tempo, enabling more boldness on “Tootsie Roll” and a welcome hint of silliness on “For Stompers Only,” but also delivering an opening piano solo that simultaneously set a high performance standard and perfectly framed the luminous contours of “Imagination.” By the final session here, Getz sounds more like Parker than Pres on “Penny” and the “Caravan”-like “Split Kick,” but a sublime take on “It Might as Well Be Spring” shows he is adding to, rather than changing, his game.